"One cannot separate beauty from utility,
the form from the material, the work from its function, man
from his creative art. A child is artistically gifted provided
he is not inhibited by his circumstances of life and education,
with the help of a sensitive teacher, the child's innate creative
energies could be released."
Ramses Wissa Wassef, an Egyptian architect, was persuaded
of the fundamental importance of creativity as a force to
shape the society in which we live. Prompted by this conviction
he started an educational and artistic experiment that began
in 1941 and is continuing till now, twenty six years after
his death. The weavings exhibited in the Wissa Wassef Art
Center are an example of the results of this experiment.
He worked first with the children in the district of Old
Cairo and when he proved the soundness of his theory he came
in 1953 to the village of Harrania, a small village near Cairo
where people lived on agriculture, with very little contact
with the outside world. To work with the children of Harrania
he bought some land and used to visit it every week with his
wife Sophie, who's an artist herself, to supervise the building
of a small room topped with a dome and to play and talk with
the village children in order to know and understand them
By the time the room was finished he had built a good relationship
with the children and he proposed to teach them a trade. He
then brought twelve simple looms and some woolen threads,
which he coloured with natural dyes and taught nine girls
and three boys the rudiments of weaving without giving them
They were then encouraged to express themselves directly
with the threads. Each tapestry was an innovation and they
were paid for it as an encouragement. In the garden of the
atelier they planted the dyes like reseda, madder, nut trees
etc. and slowly, as the children grew older and their work
matured, the couple started discussing the composition and
the colours to give them new ideas.
After Ramses Wissa Wassef's death in 1974 the center was
divided into three groups:
1. The first generation weavers continued with Sophie Wissa
Wassef who was dealing with them from the beginning.
2. Suzanne Wissa Wassef started in 1973 with her own group
of young weavers. These were separated from the older ones
so as not to be influenced by their achievements. She also
continued with the Ceramics.
3. I, Yoanna Wissa Wassef, took over the Batik group and
started a new group of Cotton weavers in 1974.
I would like to stress a few important points in Ramses
Wissa Wassef's experiment, which will explain his ideas more
clearly. Ramses Wissa Wassef chose weaving for several reasons,
the main one being that it is a very old Egyptian craft that
is slow in progress, enabling the child to build up his/her
idea. At the same time it is not too complicated to discourage
him. The technique itself is full of possibilities that can
be explored without restrictions. When a tapestry is completed
the child feels a sense of having achieved something worthwhile.
What applies to weaving can be applied to any art or craft
when the child is given a chance to express himself through
his hands and mind. This is what we proved when we introduced
Ceramics and Batik.
Each of us directs our school according to our own ideas
and views. Our personality reflects on the work of our weavers,
but we are united by our respect of the main philosophy that
founded the school. Our aim is not only to produce genuine
art and revive Egyptian crafts, but also to help young people
build a better and more fulfilling life for themselves and
those around them. By developing their creative abilities.
Yoanna Wissa Wassef